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Hawks play at Nelson tonight

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By Nathaniel Bryan

 Entering the season, first-year LaRue County coach Josh Jaggers said the secondary would be the strength of his Hawks’ defense.

He’ll need his cornerbacks and safeties to be strong tonight as the Hawks (2-2) hit the road to Bardstown to take on the pass-happy Nelson County Cardinals (1-3).

“They’re going to have to be as good as they’ve ever been,” Jaggers said. “But at the same time, so does our pass rush. It’s one of those things where your pass defense is only as good as your pass rush, too. We’re definitely going to try to get some heat on him (senior quarterback Dylan Beasley). But they’ve got their work cut out for them.”

Led by Beasley, the Cardinals lead the state in passing yards (1,738) and passing yards per game (434.5).

“I’m not sure how you get ready for it. I really don’t. It’s the damndest thing I’ve ever seen,” Jaggers said of the Cardinals’ spread offense, which averages 40.5 points and 39.8 passing attempts per game. “Of course we saw it last year (in a 38-24 win by the Hawks in Hodgenville), but it reminds me a lot of Mike Leach’s last year at Texas Tech and it’s something you don’t see that often on the high school level. They literally spread people from sideline to sideline. … It almost looks like a spread punt formation on steroids.”

And the Hawks have to try to defend it cleanly without performance enhancers.

Beasley enters tonight 106-of-159 passing (66.7 completion percentage) for 1,738 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s averaging one interception per game. His top targets are junior Austin Lavvorn (30 receptions, 561 yards, four touchdowns), junior Ben Jones (27, 316, two), senior Khalil Bourn (14, 391, six) and juniors Tommy Land (eight, 113, two), Jonathan Breeding (eight, 94, two) and Drew Martin (seven, 122, one). Four other receivers have combined for 10 catches for 124 more yards.

The Cardinals have allowed 197 points, worst in Class 4-A, but Jaggers said that statistic is more a product of Nelson County’s schedule than a true representation of the Cardinals’ defense. Nelson County has lost to Franklin County (4-0, No. 4 in 5-A), Woodford County (3-0, No. 10 in 5-A) and Bardstown (3-0, No. 8 in 2-A).

“They give up a lot, but a lot of that has to do with the fact of who they’ve played,” Jaggers said. “Yeah, they’re 1-3, but they’re 1-3 and have lost to three teams with a combined record of 10-0, too. So they’ve played some pretty good people.

“People who just look at their scores aren’t going to see it, but their defense plays fast,” he added. “They pin their ears back and go. And they’ll definitely bring the house and test you.”

The Hawks’ passing defense has been solid so far, allowing just 218 yards (54.5 per game) and three touchdowns. At the same time, they haven’t really seen a pass-first offense yet, either. Beasley has more passing attempts by himself (159) than three LaRue County opponents – Adair County (36), Shelby County (81) and Spencer County (18) – have combined (135).

Further complicating matters is adjusting to Nelson County’s attack once it gets in a rhythm. The Cardinals run plenty of no-huddle plays, which makes it hard to change alignments and substitute players in that short amount of time.

Jaggers said the Cardinals don’t use a tight end and rarely take a snap under center.

 “It will be hard for the fans Friday night because they go so fast and it’s hard to tell who a receiver is and who a lineman is because they’re spread out, but yet they’ll pack it in as well,” he said. “It’s a two-minute drill for 48 minutes. That’s exactly what it is.”

Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at (270) 505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.